Picture this: you’re merrily tapping away at your keyboard, cruising your way through your to-do list, crossing items off left and right with your favorite color highlighter when an invitation for a “Project Sync” pops up on your Google Calendar. You pause for a moment, feeling distracted and caught off guard. The meeting is in a few hours, and you need to be in the loop on the project your teammates will discuss, but is there a better way? You’re left pondering whether this is a meeting you need to attend, knowing that you’re up against looming deadlines right around the corner.
Do you know this feeling? For some, it happens far too frequently. And it can make us feel like we have absolutely zero control over our calendars and time. While it might feel scary, rude, inappropriate, taboo, or just downright uncomfortable, sometimes it’s necessary to decline a meeting invite.
Declining a meeting invite doesn’t have to feel like any of the above. You can (and should) politely decline meeting invites when you need to protect your workday. In this post, we’ll share:
- When it’s appropriate to decline a meeting invitation
- Polite ways to decline meetings
- Email templates you can customize and use to decline a meeting invite
Valid reasons to decline a meeting invitation
Gracefully declining a meeting invite is a secret superpower in today’s modern work landscape. It’s an art that can save you precious time, help you protect your productivity, and maintain healthy working relationships with your coworkers (“It’s not you, it’s me!”). But declining meetings professionally and eloquently also comes with knowing when it’s valid to decline a meeting invite (spoiler alert: you can’t decline every meeting). Here are some legitimate reasons for rejecting an invite.
Scheduling conflicts or overlapping priorities
First and foremost, you have the right to decline a meeting invite if you have a scheduling conflict and need to attend another meeting or if the meeting isn’t a top priority. Consider declining if you have deadlines and important tasks to work on (you need to protect your Focus Time). If you get invited to more than one meeting at the same time, it’s a no-brainer that you can’t be in more than one place at once, which might make it easy for you to decide to decline.
Related, if you’re working on time-sensitive initiatives, spending time in a meeting that feels less important can feel like a waste of time and leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed. If you receive an invitation and feel like you’ll multitask during the meeting if you attend, it’s probably a sign that you don’t have the capacity to be there.
Lack of relevance (or participation)
If you get invited to a meeting in which you might not be an active participant (or decision-maker), or the topic is one that you need to be informed of (but may not need to attend the meeting to receive the information), you likely don’t need to attend. If the content is somewhat irrelevant to you and your role, you may get the information through another avenue (like a follow-up email). And if you’re going to be more of a listener than an active participant, perhaps your team should consider if the meeting is necessary in the first place. For maximum workday effectiveness, ensure you’re prioritizing meetings where you are needed and will add value.
Short notice without justification
There are some instances where a meeting may need to happen on short notice, but these situations are rare. Unless you’re in an actual emergency, insufficient notice is a perfectly reasonable reason for declining a meeting invite. If you don’t have enough time to review the meeting agenda to prepare or rearrange your schedule (which you ideally shouldn’t have to do), consider declining to avoid disrupting your workday.
Redundancy of point-of-view or expertise
In the workplace, sometimes we mistake collaboration for lengthy meeting attendee lists. Inviting many voices into the meeting room might seem inclusive and collaborative on the surface, but it leads to redundant representation and expertise that might not be necessary. For example, if one team member can attend a meeting to represent the point-of-view of their entire team, it’s a better use of time for that single person to attend rather than have multiple people from the team there.
Meeting time outside of working hours
As hybrid and remote work grows, more and more teams are becoming comprised of team members located across a wide range of time zones. While this helps us create more diverse teams and opens up recruitment outside of specific locations, it can complicate meeting coordination. Unless previously decided and discussed, you don’t owe anyone a meeting outside your work hours. It’s a tough but necessary boundary to set to avoid never being able to disconnect from your work.
How to decline meetings
From deciphering which invitations to decline confidently to crafting the perfect response, follow these steps to decline meetings professionally, politely, and for a good reason.
1. Determine why you aren’t going to attend the meeting.
Review the purpose of the meeting, attendee list, and meeting time in detail before deciding not to attend. It’s essential that you don’t miss an important meeting, so be sure to give the invite the time and attention it deserves before jumping to any conclusions or assumptions about it. This also provides you with an opportunity to ask the meeting organizer questions about the meeting if you need any additional clarification.
After review, if you decide you need to decline the meeting, understand your reason why. Did you not receive sufficient notice? Are you not the right person to attend? Do you need to be aware of the outcomes of the meeting but not necessarily present at it? Do you have a conflict? Know your reason.
2. Consider whether you want to propose a suggestion or an alternative.
In some cases, the meeting might not be necessary to have at all. If you are questioning whether the meeting needs to happen, now’s the time to kindly ask the question and suggest working through the matter at hand via email, Slack, or some other form of communication. (Asynchronous for the win!)
If a meeting needs to happen, and you want to attend it but already have other obligations, you can always suggest a different time and date. If possible, check the meeting organizer’s (and others') calendars to identify a timeslot that might work best for everyone to make the meeting organizer’s life easier.
3. Strengthen your response with an exchange.
Note that you don’t always need to suggest or propose an alternative. Sometimes, you need to say no without requesting a reschedule or canceling a meeting, and that’s okay, too. Rather than giving a flat “no, I’m not going to attend,” think about what you might offer instead. You might say something like, “Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend this meeting, but I’ll send someone else on my team to attend and catch up with them afterward.” Or “No, I can’t attend the meeting, but I’ll gladly give you my input via email for consideration.”
A “no” without explanation might be cold, rude, and unprofessional. While you don’t need to explain yourself, offering a solution in exchange for your lack of attending is thoughtful and tells the meeting organizer you want to contribute to successful outcomes as a team player.
4. Craft a courteous and direct response.
With your mind made up and your plan of attack in order, it’s time to draft your decline message to send to the meeting organizer. Ensure you don’t leave your team members wondering if you’ll attend, and don’t wait to send your response until the last minute, either.
When crafting your response, be courteous. Use a professional and respectful tone throughout your message. Acknowledge and appreciate the meeting organizer for their time. But don’t get lost in being too polite. Make sure you’re direct so your message is easy to understand. A direct response will convey that you won’t attend the meeting and how you plan to contribute to successful outcomes (such as by sending someone else to participate in your place or proposing a different meeting time).
Email templates for declining a meeting invite
If writing an email to decline a meeting invite is out of your comfort zone, never fear! We put together a few templates for you to try down below. You can also use AI writing tools, like Grammarly or ChatGPT, to draft an email covering your critical points for you.
Here’s an example of an email Grammarly helped me generate:
Declining a meeting and proposing a new time
Dear [Meeting organizer],
I hope you’re doing well! I appreciate the invite to this meeting to discuss [topic]. Unfortunately, I can’t attend at the proposed time due to a scheduling conflict.
Could we consider rescheduling the meeting to [proposed time and date]? It looks like this time slot is open for all meeting attendees. Please let me know if this change works for everyone, and I’d be happy to join!
Thank you for your understanding and flexibility.
All the best,
Declining a meeting and sending someone in your place
Dear [Meeting organizer],
I hope you’re doing well! I appreciate the invite to this meeting to discuss [topic]. Unfortunately, I can’t attend at the proposed time.
To ensure the meeting is still productive, I propose that [Team member’s name] attend in my place. [He/she/they] is/are well-informed about [topic] and will be able to contribute to the discussion to ensure we reach a decision. [Team member] will give me a recap and share meeting notes with me.
Please let me know if that works for you and the team, and I will connect with [Team member’s name].
Thank you for being so understanding!
Declining a meeting request and suggesting an alternative option
Dear [Meeting organizer],
I hope you are having a lovely week so far. I regret to inform you that I won’t be able to attend the meeting at the proposed date and time as I have some time-sensitive to-dos I need to accomplish.
In light of this, I’d like to suggest an alternative approach. Instead of holding a meeting, could we consider deciding on [topic] via email? This might allow us to be more efficient and accommodate busy schedules this week.
If you like this idea, please let me know, and we can set up a structured email thread to achieve our intended outcome.
Thank you for considering this alternative, and I look forward to your reply.
All the best,
We can’t escape meeting requests, but you mustn’t let them consume your calendar. Take back control and politely decline meetings when you have a good reason. Determine a valid reason to reject the meeting, suggest an alternative solution, and send a thoughtful message to your teammates to maintain your working relationships.